19 June, 2016

Where in the world is Yoshikatsu Fujita?

Those who follow my blog know for sure that I have an great admiration for Fujita-san who over the years has single-handedly produced some of the best pinballs simulations.  (Well, this is not quite true: the graphics are due to Reiko Nojima, his wife, who is a fabulous graphics artist). When in October 2012 I published my top-ten list of pinballs, LittleWing, Fujita-san's pinball company, appeared in places 3, 5, 9 and 10 with a special mention (imagine this as 10bis) for Tristan. (I realise now that the list has not been updated for almost four years now. This is something that should be remedied at one point). 

Over the years LittleWing released 11 great pinball simulations for the Mac

To the Mac pinballs appearing in the screenshot above one should add the iOS versions of Tristan and of Crystal Caliburn.

Unfortunately towards the end of 2012 Littlewing closed its doors exiting the pinball simulation business. In a 2013 post I offered an explanation of this decision. In a nutshell. Pinball development was a sustainable business when the typical price was at around 30 $. When the prices fell to the 2-4 $ range, Fujita-san could no more make a living out of his pinballs. I wrote a detailed post on the devastating damage of freemium in particular on digital pinballs. However, in the case of Littlewing, the irreparable damage was already done before prices collapsed to zero: once the prices went below some threshold the business was dead in the water.

A few days ago, out of pure nostalgia, I decided to look for Fujita-san. My reasoning was that, since he is a great programmer, once LittleWing shut its doors, he should have sought employment with some internet company. It turned out that my hunch was correct. Looking for Fujita-san I found his Twitter page. With the help of my japanese connection I was able to access the details in his tweets. So, Fujita-san went to work for “Twitter Japan” in January 2013 and then he moved to “Twitter US” in October 2013. He lives in California, in San Mateo and is currently working as software engineer at Google. 

It is my feeling that Fujita-san's pinball days are things of the past. I do not think we are going to see a LittleWing revival in any foreseeable future. Still I felt that it was worth the try to write to Fujita-san and request an interview for the blog. If ever I get an answer rest assured that I will report on this.

05 June, 2016

FarSight reaches another milestone

With the release of end-of-May table FarSight has just concluded the Season 5 campaign. And they did it with flourish with a great table that took immediately a place among my favourites. This months table, TX-Sector,  is a table form the 80s with a simple layout but with an interesting game. 

The almost uniformly coloured lower playfield makes for an increased ball visibility (well, provided you shun the standard, "silver", ball). The gameplay is interesting and the ball does not drain too easily. I do not remember any recent pinball where I was hooked from the outset to the same degree as with TX-Sector. I hanged on and managed in the very first game I did play, to beat the high score.

I am always criticising FarSight (and justifiably so). But you have to give it to them. They have become, over the past few years, our steady source of classical pinball tables. With the conclusion of Season 5, they have released no fewer than 72 tables and there are at least two more already announced (Dr. Who and AC/DC). In the bleak landscape of MacOS/iOS pinball simulations FarSight is the one developer one can count upon. At times like this one I am almost ready to forgive all their misgivings.

01 June, 2016

The complicated situation of Zen pinballs

I have always been intrigued by the "2" on the Zen Pinball 2. If we are talking about "2" then a "1" should have existed. I voiced my bewilderment in a previous post of mine and my friend Doc gave a first answer. Zen FX (1) was a console game and the 13 tables, Epic Quest, Rome, Tesla, Mars, Wild West, Castle Storm, Secrets of the Deep, Biolab, Excalibur, Paranormal, Shaman, Pasha and V12 were in fact the Zen 1 collection.

Since I have always a plan to do a post on these classic Zen tables (which are the ones I like best) I was thinking about the FX(1) list and decided to do some digging.

Just as Doc said, Zen Pinball (1) was a console game. Nine tables were released from 2007 and up to the upgrade, in 2010, of Zen pinball to the FX2 version. They are 

   Speed Machine
   Nightmare Mansion
   Rocky and Bullwinkle
   Street Fighter II 
   Earth Defense

Those are the real FX1 tables. However only Excalibur and Earth Defense are part of the classic collection. So where do the remaining ones come from?

A visit at the table guides of the Zen Studios site tells us that the tables


are part of the Zen Classics collection. Does this mean that they are FX1? Most probably yes, but what about the other four tables collection

   Secrets of The Deep  

In the table guide page they are listed as Pinball FX2 Core Pack. So they are definitely not FX1. And finally we have the remaining four tables 

   Epic Quest  
   Sorcerer's Lair  

of the classics list which are listed unambiguously as FX2. What is curious is that there is a fifth FX2 pinball which has not made it yet to the Zen Classics for iOS: Ms. Splosion Man. The table looks nice so let us keep our fingers crossed.

In fact I have trouble understanding the logic of porting this rather than that table to iOS. It has perhaps something to do with licensing with the absurd results that a pinball like Plants vs. Zombies is available for the Mac and not on iOS.

And in order to complement this blog on Zen Pinball forensics I should just remind the existence/disappearance of the first two Zen pinballs for iOS, Rollercoaster and Inferno, I wrote about in a previous post.

I hope that one can now see in a somewhat clearer way how the pinballs of Zen Studios are organised. I certainly do.